When I was 14 years old, I went hunting with my dad on youth hunting weekend. It’s the weekend before the official hunting season begins, giving novice hunters a better chance. Going into this, I asked two questions: ‘do I deserve to eat meat if I can’t kill an animal? ,’ and, more importantly, ‘how will I feel after this?’ The best way to find out seemed to be to shoot first and ask questions later. I was even planning on butchering the animal myself, which I felt was a crucial step in answering these questions.
After a few tired hours of mental deliberation, a doe walked into our field, and with a deep breath, I posed the question to the trigger of my shotgun. One minute, the deer was standing and eating; the next, it was totally dead from a shot to the chest. It was one way to learn that actions have consequences, and also the way I learned that I’m not particularly fond of killing animals. It was no surprise to me that I couldn’t stay while my dad butchered the doe, because the surgical operation which followed was too disconcerting. The fact that the doe simply went from living to dead was surreal enough, let alone dead to venison.
Something made me very uncomfortable with this rapid change in status. Holding a pig’s heart in fifth grade was fascinating, but the thought of actively cutting up animal bodies gave me enough creeps to skip high school dissections. Book anatomy and diagrams were fine, but the thought of actually slicing into the flesh myself unnerved me. The reductionism involved in separating a whole into its parts sucked the magic out of existence, and that deeply bothered me for years, especially in biology and psychology.
Baking also intimidated me. I would knead my dough in a triangular motion, wondering if I was doing it right. What if I screw up? Where are my instructions? But working through the dough on the granite countertop worked out my worries as the dough took on the right consistency. My worries now transformed into wonder. How did this happen? Where did this dough come from? How did the ingredients come together and unify into something new and beautiful? What was this thing?
Last week, I was frying eggs from the Ithaca Farmers Market to put on my homemade bread. Eggs and toast are a staple of my diet, mostly for the sake of time, but also because I have a fear of screwing up a recipe. This beautiful homemade loaf of bread was made a few days before. It had a soft and supple texture, round shape and a perfect balance of flavor and texture — salty, firm and moist. The bread was first enjoyed with melted butter to bring out the salty and homely flavor. A small crowd of interested friends gathered in my kitchen to share the fresh loaf when it first came out of the oven. Now, days later, it was finished with the breakfast for dinner I was about to enjoy.
As I was sliding the two eggs from the frying pan onto my final slice of bread, a curious thought struck me. What if every meal we ate didn’t just go into our chemical bodies and transform into its base components, but also became a part of our soul? This revelation meant two things. My soul is an accumulation of all my meals and all my interactions, as those require some digestion as well. It also means that this meal I made wasn’t just a separable, chemical creation, but something tangible and real. Watching this bread come together was watching a whole become greater than the sum of its parts.
Baking this bread from scratch and seeing it through to its end confronted me with this reality which I hadn’t seen before. Using my hands to turn water and flour into a hearty homemade meal was not only a transformation for the bread, but also for me. The way the bread took shape as it came together with the eggs was like watching a film in slow-motion, a film about different ingredients coming together and meaning something in their combination.
You might never shoot a deer, or be as unnerved in biology class as I was. But now that you’ve read my experience in baking and how it transformed me, I have one last question: Have you ever baked a loaf of bread?
If you want to bake your own bread, here’s a link to a recipe for “Cornell Bread,” the type of bread I baked.
Adam Ziccardi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]